The news that Lionel Messi is back in training would have been music to the ears of every Barcelona supporter. According to B/R's Guillem Balague, Messi scored a hat-trick in a specially organised training game and will return to the first XI for Barca’s midweek Copa del Rey fixture against Getafe.
Having last featured in Barcelona’s 4-1 win over Real Betis back in November, the Argentinian maestro has been sidelined with an injury. With La Blaugrana facing a crucial point in their season, Messi’s return will help Tata Martino’s team to rediscover a fear factor that has been a little on the wane as of late.
But he can’t do it alone. Neymar has stepped up in the absence of Messi, and the prodigious Brazilian will be key in not only helping Barcelona to a prosperous end to the campaign, but also helping Messi rediscover his best form.
The Argentinian isn’t used to being out injured, such is the exemplary fitness record he has maintained throughout his career. But he is notorious for wanting to play every single minute of every single game.
After a three-month layoff, Messi’s not going to be able to do that immediately. He’ll be eased back into the side, most probably with a few hour-long, maybe even substitute appearances to begin with. Barca have a massive amount of games to play following the winter break so expect Messi to fluctuate in and out of the side.
If they progress, as expected, in the Copa del Rey, there is a potential of 15 fixtures to play in the months of January and February.
That means much of the creative and goalscoring burden will still be shouldered by Neymar, something he has had no issues with as of late. But he too should also expect to be rotated with the games coming thick and fast.
Barca have the class to cope with the fixture pile-up. They have enough depth and plenty of fine young players at hand to cope very well. But coach Martino will be looking to have both of the aforementioned stars fit and ready for some season-defining games.
The first of which is a clash with Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon on Jan. 11. Martino should have Messi available to play some part, but he will most probably start on the bench. That means Barca will be expecting a big performance from their Brazilian star; one that could ultimately determine the destination of the La Liga title.
If Neymar can maintain this sparkling form, and recent indications suggest he’s certainly capable, Messi would be coming back into what is pretty much a perfect framework. Facilitating that environment will be key if the Argentine is going to recapture his best form with that massive Champions League tie against Manchester City on the horizon.
At the start of the campaign, with Neymar’s tenure at Barca very much in its infancy, Messi and the former Santos man never really struck up an understanding. But now, with the Brazilian playing superbly and the Argentine returning, there is no reason why the duo can’t fire the Catalan club to glory on all fronts come the end of this campaign.